New York: An attack by vandals at the national museum in the Maldives capital was reminiscent of the Taliban`s demolition of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan and has raised fears that extremists were gaining ground in the atoll nation, the New York Times said.
Around half a dozen men ransacked a collection of coral and lime figures, including a six-faced coral statue and a more than one-foot-wide Buddha`s head, the daily said.
Officials said the artefacts were vandalised because the attackers believed they were illegal under Islamic laws. The museum was built by China as a gift to the Maldives.
"The vandalism was reminiscent of the Taliban`s demolition of the great carved Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001, and it has raised fears here that extremists are gaining ground in the Maldives," the daily said.
The Maldives is a Sunni Muslim country, which according to historians converted from Buddhism to Islam in the 12th century.
The Indian Ocean atoll nation follows many elements of Islamic law, some of which say that idols cannot be brought into the country, and alcohol and pork are allowed for foreign tourists.
Naseema Mohamed, a historian who worked at the museum and retired last year, said the loss was "devastating" because many ancient artefacts had been lost over the years by local people and rulers.
Though conservative Muslims had suggested removing the statues from the museum, there had never been any threat.
Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, former minister of Islamic affairs under the Mohamed Nasheed regime, said the laws specifically exempt ancient figures from regulations governing idols.
"This is our heritage, and it has to be protected for future generations," he told the New York Times.
Adhaalath, an Islamist political party, condemned the vandalism.
Scholars and museums from a number of countries have now offered help to restore the damaged statues.